This week we celebrate a holiday that my 3-year-old self probably would have created if I could…No Dirty Dishes Day. I know you’re thinking, really Dr. Lisa? Your 3-year-old self would have created this? Not only would I have created it but my little self would have proudly stood on my step stool, washing the dishes and singing away.

You see, as a child, my chore was to wash the dishes. And I LOVED it! To be honest, I still love it. I find it very calming and soothing to wash the dishes. I have even begun to encourage my children to ‘wash’ the dishes with me…for them it’s more like water play, but to me it’s the start of a chore that one day they will be able to complete.

While this unofficial holiday actually encourages you to leave some dishes in the sink and go out and do something fun with the time you have saved, I choose to look at it as a holiday where you clean all of the dishes so that there are none left in the sink…

The chore of doing chores

I’m not sure if you grew up in a household where you had chores or not. Often movies and TV shows depict chores as something that kids don’t enjoy doing. We frequently see the older kids complaining about having to do chores or needing to complete a task that their parents are asking of them. And then we see the parent ‘nagging’ to ensure the child gets the task done.

Did you know that if you start these activities when your child is young they will actually be HAPPY and EXCITED to participate? Young kids love to feel needed and important.

Finding Value

As a parent we may look at assigning our child a household chore as a way to get it off of our own list. If I have my child clear the table after dinner that’s one less thing that I have to do, right? Yes, but household chores actually do so much more than remove something from your to-do list.

Household chores help teach children responsibility, new skills such as cleaning, organizing and cooking and can positively contribute to their self-esteem by giving them a sense of accomplishment. And, if you keep your expectations age appropriate, assigning your child a household chore can actually help reduce your own stress.

Starting small

I recommend starting young…around the age of 18 months. The first chore that all children can and should have is cleaning up. Some of you may be thinking, “ugh it’s just so much easier if I do it myself” or “my kid NEVER cleans up”. Here at KTMS we make it a rule that you can’t play with another toy until the first one is cleaned up. And it’s a rule that I turned around and implemented in my own home.

P and T have their own little play room with toys strewn around the floor. But at the end of play time, they know that they have to clean up. Of course, in my house we sing the clean-up song. Over my years as a professional I have found that kids will participate much more frequently and willingly if you add a song to the situation.

At first, cleaning up is a team activity. For example, at 18 months, I pick up 3 pieces for every 1 piece that T picks up. But at almost 4, P knows that she needs to clean up the entire activity herself before we can move on. And unfortunately for P mommy is an OT that can and will sit and wait until everything is cleaned up.

Start slow and be specific

First and foremost – and believe me I’m saying this for myself as much as I’m saying it for you – start small, slow and don’t expect perfection. Start with a simple task such as cleaning up toys. Don’t expect your child to place everything neatly back into the package in color coordinated form. As long as the toy is in the box that’s a win!

If you’ve asked your child to do something, make sure you are clear and specific and then give them the time and freedom to do it. Don’t jump in and do it for them as that can simply undermine the entire point of giving them a chore in the first place. Sit on your hands if you must.

Watch them and encourage them. “Great job picking up your toys Johnny!”. “Katie I can see that you’re walking really nicely to the kitchen with your plate.” “Look at how hard you’re working folding those towels Jessica. You’re really helping me out!” Don’t wait to thank them or offer praise when the task is done, encourage them throughout the task.

The chore chart

If you want your child to do anything, consistency is key. This is especially true with respect to chores. If you would like feeding the dog in the morning to be your child’s household chore, try to make sure they do it every morning. How can you ensure this? A chore chart.

Chore charts are not only a great way to stay organized but they can be very fun and rewarding for kids. There are plenty of chore charts out there in the world. Some websites provide you with templates, other companies such as Melissa and Doug have created wooden and magnetic charts that you hang on the wall. You can go that way, or simply tape a piece of paper to the fridge, make a simple grid listing the day of the week and give your kid a sticker or star every time they complete their task.

Simple rewards such as seeing a sticker on a chore chart noting that a task has been completed can go a long way. Young kids want that sticker. They want that star. If you start early, then simple tasks such as feeding the dog in the morning become habitual and soon enough your child will begin to complete the task without you even having to remind them.

Age appropriate

I think one of the most important parts of starting your children on household chores is ensuring that the task you are assigning them is age appropriate.  Here are some examples of chores that your child should be able to hand according to their age:

Ages 2-3

  • Put away toys
  • Put clothes in the hamper
  • Put books away in book shelf
  • Clear the table
  • Wipe up spills

Ages 4-5

  • Make their bed
  • Water flowers or trees
  • Help set the table/clear the table
  • Help empty the dishwasher
  • Help with laundry (loading machine, simple folding)

Ages 6-7

  • Help sort laundry and put laundry away
  • Help make and pack lunch
  • Feed the pet
  • Keep their room clean (pick up items off the floor)

Ages 8-9

  • Load the dishwasher
  • Put away groceries
  • Make their own snack
  • Take the pet for a walk

Whether you choose to assign your child a household chore or not, know that starting as young as 2 years old, they are more than capable of helping around the house. And know that the younger they are, they more likely they are to be super excited about helping you.

Think of these little chores as great bonding and teaching moments. Make them fun! Sing while you’re putting away the groceries or washing the dishes. Count how many plates you are putting away. Enjoy spending productive time together knowing that you’ll have more free fun time once the chore is done. 😊